Ingraffea admits gas migration theories baseless

April 13th, 2017

Australian anti-gas activists have adopted a number of heroes in their ‘stop it all now’ crusade against fossil fuels. One of them is Professor Tony Ingraffea, from Cornell University in the USA.

Professor Ingraffea was a key ‘expert’ in the gasland movies, which claim to be documentaries, but are actually far from fact, as we have explained before.

Engineers,  geologists and other academics have long questioned Proffessor Ingraffea’s theories. Now add to that list a judge in the US State of Pennsylvania.

Professor Ingraffea’s ‘expert’ testimony was chucked out of court by Judge  Martin C. Carlson, with some cutting commentary about his testimony about gas migration and its profound weaknesses.

But it wasn’t left to the judge.  Professor Ingraffea did the job on himself, admitting that his theories on the way gas could migrate from deep underground shale deposits to shallow aquifers were “speculative”.

This is a very serious word for an academic.  It reduces credibility to near zero – particularly in a situation where Professor Ingraffea has literally traded off this flawed dogma for a decade, both in the USA and abroad, including Australia.

On a fractivist promotional tour in 2014, Professor Ingraffea told adoring fans in Australia that one in five wells in the USA is flawed from the moment it is built and that most steadily decay thereafter.

This is rubbish as we explained in both the US and Australian context.

But worse than wrongly attacking well integrity, Professor Ingraffea then went on to assert (he now admits the more accurate word would be ‘speculate’) that gas then migrated via the well and fractures created by fracking from shall formations kilometres below ground up to shallow acquifers, contaminating them.  This was the explanation for the contamination of water on the Ely family property near Dimock – the town where ‘Gasland’ was created.

As Judge Carlson found, these assertions simply do not hold water.

In fact the Judge described them as  exhibiting  “substantial and varied weaknesses”, adding that Professor Ingraffea’s ‘expert’ testimony featured “serious and troubling irregularities”.

Now that a court has finally applied the knife to Professor Ingraffea’s reputation, the question is, will he do the honourable thing and acknowledge his weaknesses more broadly and apologise to all those around the world who have accepted his ‘expert’ word?  We doubt it.

4 Comments

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  1. Brian Spittles on 6 June, 2017 Reply

    Judge Carlson is clearly ill-informed. A comprehensive 2015 US EPA report tilted ‘Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water’ discusses gas and fluid migration at length. In terms of the former it explains that – “Stray gas refers to the phenomenon of natural gas (primarily methane) migrating into shallow drinking water resources, into water wells, or to the surface (e.g., cellars, streams, or springs). Stray gas in the wellhead of a production well is an indicator of an active wellbore pathway”. Therefore, I think the ‘profound weakness’ you refer to above is more a measure of Judge Carlson’s knowledge about gas migration.

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  2. Brian Spittles on 6 June, 2017 Reply

    It seems Judge Carlson is something of a law unto himself. Something the above article failed to disclose is that the jury unanimously found the gas company guilty as charged, but Judge Carlson astoundingly took it upon himself to overturned this finding. I smell a rat. – “A federal judge has set aside a 2016 jury verdict and $4.24 million jury award to two couples from Dimock, Pennsylvania after the jury unanimously found Cabot Oil and Gas negligent for contaminating their well water during drilling for natural gas. U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson, an Obama appointee, threw out the award and ordered a new trial unless the parties can come to a settlement. The plaintiffs in the case are Nolen “Scott” Ely and his family, and Ray Hubert and his family who live next to the Elys. The Ely family has lived in Dimock since the 1800’s. Scott Ely said “The judge heard the same case that the jury heard and the jury was unanimous. How can he take it upon himself to set aside their verdict. It’s outrageous.”

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    • ERIC on 6 June, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for your comment – for more information, including relevant extracts from the judgement, see here: https://energyindepth.org/national/federal-judge-throws-out-4-2-million-dimock-nuisance-verdict-orders-new-trial/

      Relevant quote: “following reflection on the substantial and varied weaknesses in the plantiffs’ case together with the myriad examples of inappropriate conduct that repeatedly occurred in the jury’s presence and may have colored the outcome of this case, the Court is constrained to find that a new trial is not only justified, but required.”

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  3. Brian Spittles on 8 June, 2017 Reply

    Thanks in turn for this information. I read a full copy of Judge Carlson’s finding and I subsequently rescind my comment about ‘smelling a rat’ in terms of the Judge’s integrity. http://media.philly.com/documents/Memorandum-Opinion0331.pdf

    However, this not constitute proof that Cabot Oil and Gas are innocent of water contamination. It simply means the plaintiff’s, who cannot afford to pay highly skilled lawyers, botched their case and the Judge is overruling the jury’s finding to enable them another crack at it if they still don’t wish to negotiate a settlement. John-Mark Stensvaag, an environmental law professor at the University of Iowa, said that orders to re-try cases “are not as rare as one might think…..This does not mean that the plaintiffs have no case,” he added, “it only means that, in [Judge Carlson’s] opinion, they have not presented a case justifying the jury’s verdict and should be given a second opportunity to present an adequate case.” https://ppjg.me/category/energyoil/ The same article this quote appears in also notes that “there’s little question that something is very wrong with the water on Carter Road, despite lingering questions in the legal battles centering around that contaminated water” and that one of the wells in Dimock exploded in 2009.

    Indeed, a 2016 report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry on water toxology in the Dimock area found that “some of the chemicals in the private water wells at this site at levels high enough to affect health (27 private water wells), pose a physical hazard (17 private water wells), or affect general water quality so that it may be unsuitable for drinking”. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/hac/pha/DimockGroundwaterSite/Dimock_Groundwater_Site_HC_05-24-2016_508.pdf

    This does not prove that fracking by Cabot caused the contamination, but reasonable doubt suggests it did, regardless of Judge Carlson’s finding. Cabot started drilling in the area in 2008 and in 2009 there is suddenly a major water contamination problem in the area. My money is on the speculative high likelihood that their fracking practices are the cause of the contamination. Their money seems to be on this idea also, because if Cabot truly believes itself to be innocent of such contamination then why has the company been paying out settlements with gag clauses attached? Sounds like a tacit admission of guilt to me.

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